Muoio wins the race for West Palm Beach mayor

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -  WEST PALM BEACH — City Commissioner Jeri Muoio stunned the city's political community Tuesday, winning the mayoral election outright.

Muoio got more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff on March 22, which all four candidates expected.

"I thought there would be a runoff," Muoio said late Tuesday.

Muoio attributed the strong showing to her volunteers and a grass-roots campaign. At midnight, when the final votes were posted, businesswoman Paula Ryan was a distant second, City Commissioner Molly Douglas third and electrician Charles Bantel fourth.

Douglas left a voicemail for Muoio, conceding the race.

A loud roar went up from the crowd at the Reef Road Rum Bar when Muoio's numbers first topped the 50 percent mark. The crowd spilled onto the sidewalk in front of the bar and supporters embraced her as the TV lights glared.

"Mayor Muoio, Mayor Muoio," chanted the crowd about 11:45 p.m. after term-limited Mayor Lois Frankel hugged her protege upon receiving a phone call saying that Muoio had won.

Frankel, who endorsed Muoio, said, "I predicted it."

Douglas was visibly stunned at her planned celebration at a private home in Northwood, walking away with a blank stare when results began indicating a Muoio landslide. Douglas said she did everything she could in the race and worked hard as a commissioner.

After months of heated debate and nasty mailers, the candidates were anxious to find out who would become West Palm Beach's fourth strong mayor late Tuesday. They had to wait a few extra hours.

Frankel said a snafu by the Supervisor of Elections Office resulted in the votes arriving late at the tabulation center in Riviera Beach. "There was a kink," she said at 9:30 p.m.

Three electronic cartridges had been left at the precincts, according to the city clerk, Joanna Sharp.

Then after midnight, Palm Beach County election workers reran a cartridge from one Precinct 7034 because they realized they had counted only one vote from that precinct even though other records showed more than 200 people had cast a vote there, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said.

The final count after that audit showed Muoio with 4,761 votes, or 51.2 percent; Ryan with 23.3 percent; Douglas with 21.3 percent and Bantel with 4.2 percent.

"Big surprise," Douglas said of the initial delay. "How hard can this be?"

But county elections officials said the West Palm Beach results arrived at the tabulation center by about 10 p.m., and counting began soon afterward.

Muoio, a resident of Ibis, said voter turnout was strong in the western part of the city. "I heard the turnout in the west was good but not so good elsewhere," she said.

"Jeri must have overwhelmed them in the west," Frankel said. "But there were about 9,000 votes cast and the west is 3,000 votes, maybe only 2,000, so she must have done well pretty much everywhere in order to win in the first round."

Staff writer George Bennett contributed to this story.

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